2022 is here, and very soon this year’s AFL Premiership season begins. As part of the build-up, The Inner Sanctum is taking a look at the players entering their 10th year in the league. The latest instalment looks at the career of Geelong’s Mark Blicavs.
Chock full of talent, the 2011 draft provided most clubs with talented footballers that have served their club well over the past decade. Few, however, have a story as unique as Geelong’s Mark Blicavs.
Growing up in Victoria, top-level sport was in his blood. His mother and father both represented Australia in basketball. Dad Andris competed at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Mum Karen (nee Odgen) also represented Australia in basketball, as has sister Sara, currently playing in the WNBL.
Blicavs played his junior football for Taylors Lakes, however, his real passion was athletics.
He would often compete in races with his mother and soon was pursuing his dream of competing in the Olympic Games for Australia. His last competitive game of football came in under 14s, at which point his focus was entirely on his athletics pursuits.
Drafted on ‘a punt’
It was teammate Cameron Guthrie’s dad, who had seen Blicavs play footy as a junior, who told Cats’ list manager Stephen Wells to keep an eye on him.
With his athletic background and great skill set shown as a junior, Wells selected Blicavs with pick no. 54 in the 2011 Rookie Draft, declaring him “worth a punt”.
Blicavs’ current teammate Sam Menegola was also taken in the same Rookie Draft (by Hawthorn), and he was only one of two players in the entire draft not drafted from a football club.
From London focus to football debut
Wells knew in 2011 when drafting Blicavs that football was not his focus, and he had the blessing of the club to pursue his dream of competing in the 2012 London Olympics.
Having tried his hand but failing to qualify in the steeplechase, Blicavs turned his attention to the 1500 metres flat race. His dream came ever so close, however, he was not quite able to get there.
From the moment it became apparent that the dream would not come to fruition, Blicavs turned his attention to football.
He played his first competitive game since his junior days in July 2012 for Geelong’s reserves side. From there, the rest of 2012 was a steep learning curve on the pursuit of his new dream of playing AFL football.
Never did he believe his dream would come true so quickly. A spate of injuries to key big men Trent West, Nathan Vardy and Hamish McIntosh over the summer of 2012/13 meant that all of a sudden, Blicavs loomed as a bolter for Round 1.
“His rate of improvement has been remarkable. He’s obviously a fantastic athlete,” Cats assistant coach Blake Caracella told AFL Media on the eve of his first game.
Chris Scott was a fan of his running power, having “never seen a 198cm runner like him”, and the quick rise was complete when he was selected to play in Round 1 vs Hawthorn on Easter Monday, 2013.
Blicavs registered eight disposals (one kick, seven handballs), laid two tackles and had 11 hit-outs in Geelong’s seven-point win.
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From unlikely debut to best and fairest winner
Blicavs was used predominantly as a ruckman in the 2013 season, playing 22 games and averaging just over 10 possessions per game.
He was upgraded to the senior list in 2014 after long-term injuries to Daniel Menzel, Allen Christensen, and Nathan Vardy.
In 2014 and 2015, Blicavs was your definition of a utility player, playing midfield, wing and ruck. He honed his craft as the third man up in ruck contests, to the point where he broke the record for the most third man up ruck hit-outs in a season after just 11 games.
His dominance around the ground and in the air in 2015 led him to win the club’s best and fairest award after just 66 career games and only three years after taking up competitive senior football.
During the 2015 season, Blicavs was offered a three-year contract extension, taking him to the end of 2018. He was then elevated to the club’s leadership group at the beginning of the 2016 season.
Scrapping of third man up forces position change
At the end of season 2016, the AFL made the abrupt decision to not allow players to jump third man up at ruck contests.
Few clubs would be affected as much as Geelong with the change, and Blicavs’ form dropped significantly over the course of the 2017 season. Playing as a midfielder and only averaging 16 possessions a game was just not going to cut it, with club greats such as Jimmy Bartel calling for some purpose to his role.
The club made the decision to trial Blicavs purely as a defender, with the utility quickly learning the job as a full-back on the run. It did not take him long to find his feet, with Geelong’s defensive ‘misfits’ group earning the reputation as one of the toughest defences in the league.
Blicavs’ ability to adapt to the new position paid instant dividends on a personal level, with the now defender claiming his second best-and-fairest award and making the All Australian squad of 40 in 2018. He also signed a five-year contract extension to see him through to the end of 2023.
In 2019, Blicavs was elevated to vice-captain of the club, a position he has held for the last three years. His good form as a defender continued throughout 2019, as he again earned All Australian 40-man-squad honours.
2019 Qualifying Final: A contentious decision
The 2019 qualifying final against Collingwood will go down in infamy, with many believing Chris Scott’s want to ‘outsmart’ opponents cost the side victory.
Blicavs’ season in defence had been excellent, yet on the eve of the game, Scott opted to drop number one ruck, Rhys Stanley, leaving Blicavs and a still-raw Esava Ratagoulea to ruck against All-Australian ruck Brodie Grundy.
This move was criticised by fans and media alike following the narrow loss, with Grundy dominating in the ruck with 47 hit-outs and 21 disposals, whilst Blicavs could only manage 14 hit-outs and 11 disposals.
What lies ahead
As of the end of 2021, Mark Blicavs has kicked 44 goals and played 203 games for the Geelong Football Club, placing him 39th on the club’s all-time list. Not a bad statistic considering his beginnings in the game.
With still two years to run on his contract, and his athletic ability meaning he is showing no signs of slowing down, there are likely plenty more years left in his career.
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